A video of the time we spent on the utterly beautiful island of Majuli, Assam.
Northeast Indian adventure part seven: Satras, masks and rhino, Majuli Island and Kaziranga National Park, AssamJuly 20, 2016
Right. Let’s pick up where we left of. Another day, another Satra. This time we visited the much larger Kamalabari Satra which has been a centre of art, cultural, literature and classical studies for centuries. This was more of a complex and there were several different areas for us to explore, including a small museum. We arrived to the most beautiful singing reverberating around the sparse hallway where monks were sitting on the floor, pigeons flapping about among them.
The last leg of our trip was a three night stay on Majuli, India’s largest river island residing between two channels of the mighty Brahmaputra river. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change have been steadily taking their toll on this picturesque little place. As the river around it has grown, erosion has caused Majuli to shrink. Originally measuring in at 1,250 square kilometres, when measured in 2014, only 352 square kilometres remained. Sadly, with each annual monsoon, Majuli island loses a chunk of precious land and scientists have predicted it may no longer exist in 20 years.
We arrived at the sandy banks of Nimati Ghat where we would board the ferry which would take us across the river and drop us on the Island after about an hour or so. None of us had given much thought to what a ferry in this remote part of the world might actually consist of. To be honest, it’s just as well we hadn’t.
The first thing the boys did when we arrived in Guwahati from Cherapunjee was get a Goddamned haircut. Who did they think they were with their wayward locks and their scruffy beards!?
For guys, a trim is a great experience. For £1 you get a haircut, a cut-throat shave and a head, neck and shoulder massage. Some barbers operate out of small salons, whereas some simply occupy a small section of a wall upon which they hang a mirror. A chair and a few grooming tools are their only other business overheads.
We were really keen to explore more of the northeast of India. Although Sikkim became part of Northeast India in the 90s, we wanted to venture further east to see some of the “Seven Sisters”, in particular Assam and Meghalaya. With the monsoon rains approaching and a set date when we planned to fly to Kashmir, we decided to see if we could find someone who might be able to give us a helping hand with planning our trip. Our friends Steve and Sarah were keen to head in the same direction, so we had the opportunity to share the cost of a tour. Fortunately Piran over at Kipepeo Tours came to the rescue. Kipepeo came highly recommended to us by our friends at India Someday, as well as another friend who had been on one of their tours. The company also really appealed to us because of their emphasis on responsible tourism. Their philosophy is to ensure the livelihood of local communities through the conservation of their local environment, culture and traditional practices. Cheekily I sent Piran a very vague email explaining that we had 2 weeks and were keen to see x, y and z. Oh yea and that we were hoping to go in like 3 days! Amazingly, despite he himself being out in the mountains on a tour, he put together an itinerary which would enable us to see everything we hoped to see for a very reasonable price. And that was that…
Getting from Darjeeling to Bagdogra airport was crazy. We left our homestay at 9am to catch our early afternoon flight. After fighting his way through the Darjeeling traffic, our driver decided to stop off and get some breakfast. Ah yes, we were on “India time”. This is something you get used to, but when there are flights involved, it can be disconcerting. Often when someone in India says “5 minutes”, it can easily mean 10, 15 or 20. It’s kind of not worth questioning it. After 15 minutes, our driver had finished his breakfast and we had both anxiously chewed off our nails. We set off again. Still loads of time. Then the traffic hit hard. There is only one road out of Darjeeling in the direction we wanted to travel and it was blocked. Stopped. Not moving.
2 hours passed, during which time we had crawled forward about half a mile. More importantly though, the wee-wee Gods were wreaking havoc and the situation was becoming difficult to bear. Unfortunately, baring was the only option….
It was during this traffic jam that the driver nonchalantly mentioned that he had arrived to collect us an hour and a half before we left as he had suspected traffic. Unfortunately he hadn’t had the foresight to mention this to us, nor had he taken this time to go for breakfast.
Eventually, we started moving and our driver, bless him, decided we would catch our flight. This meant that we absolutely tore through tiny village streets, swerved around corners and raced through the middle of tea fields.
Oh, what the brakes? No, they weren’t working. No prob though, because the driver did the whole thing in first gear.